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1861 Milan, Indiana Civil War Letter, Church Tension Over Slavery, Content For Sale
Civil War Letter
EXCELLENT early CIVIL WAR LETTER written in Indiana - capturing the deep tension and disagreements over slavery and the war.
FULL TRANSCRIPT, SCANS and RESEARCH NOTES below.
This letter was written by Mary (Gibbs) Burlingame (1818-1864) to her husband, Stephen W. Burlingame (1816-1902). Mary was the daughter of Dennis Gibbs (1790-1872) and Mary Dudley (1789-1862). The Burlingames resided in Milan, Ripley County, Indiana, in 1860, and (according to S.W. Burlingame's obituary) they united with "the church in North Milan." The name of the church is not revealed in this letter but frequent references to the "Association" substantiate that it was of the Baptist faith. Baptists were unique in their convention for forming loose associations among congregations withinthe same areaof a state for the purpose of providing mutual aid and fellowship. The arrangement was consensual; they over a local congregation's actions.
This letter, written in the early months of the Civil War, reveals a Baptist Association in southern Indiana (possibly the Coffee Creek Baptist Association) deeply divided over the institution of slavery and the secession of the southern states. This area of Indiana had a high percentage of farmers who had emigrated to Indiana from Kentucky, had friends and relatives residing in the South, and whose roots ran deep in southern institutions.
Mary tells her husband that a local farmer and member of the Baptist Association named Robert Harrison Richardson (1815-1889), rose at the closing of the Annual Meeting to condemn the proceedings. Robert and his wife Louisa Carr Ann Dean (1818-1863), had lived in southern Indiana for more than two decades but were natives of Maryland -- a state still clinging to the institution of slavery.
Milan, Indiana September 10th 1861
Your letter of September 3rd with five dollars in money in it was received on last Saturday. I presume that it came in the mail on Saturday morning for I went to the Post Office on Friday and there was no letter for me.
You requested me to answer it as soon as I got it but I could not get time to write so as to mail it yesterday morning as I went to the Association and entertained a little company. Archibald Sutton and wife came to the Association intending to come here so I had them to come home with me on Sunday to dinner. The German preacher Meyer (the one you swapped time with) and his wife came with the intention of putting up here so I kept them Sunday night and that is all that I entertained.
There were a great many people at the Association and the neighbors about North Milan entertained as well as the members of the church.
Elders [E. P.] Bond of Lawrenceburg, Jones of Aurora, and Erwin of Ebenezer did the preaching. They are smart men and can preach a great deal better than Brother Harter and they are good patriots as well -- alive to the cause of liberty and freedom -- so they could not help alluding to the subject in their sermons. They showed up rebellion and treason in their true light and said, among other things, that any man that would not rise above party and raise his hand and help support ad preserve his government and country in time of peril was no Christian and had not the love of God in his soul. How do you think that kind of talk set on the stomachs of these ignorant, democrat members of the church? I will tell how: it brought them out. The American National flag was hoisted in the pulpit and was kept there during the meetings of the Association -- that and the sermons brought out the secessionists. At first they looked mad, but their bitter hatred to the cause of freedom and the National Flag, soon set their tongues to work. Taunts, sneers, and insulting remarks were passed around though somewhat cautiously, but the patriotic brethren heard the remarks and saw the secession element fermenting and took particular note of the fermenters but seemed to notice nothing.
And so things went on till Monday in the afternoon when the church business all finished and the president of the Association was calling for a move to adjourn. The yeast bottle broke and the risins run out, or in other words, the secession element found vent, or still in other words, Robert Richardson rose up and asked leave to make some remarks. Leave was granted and he commenced and went on but I can't tell you one-tenth part of what he said. In the first place he insisted all the preachers -- calling them "big guns" -- while he was nothing but "small arms." He gave the preachers "good advice," told them what they ought to do, and what they ought not to do; condemned the Association generally and especially the "new wheel" that had been added (meaning the Flag, I suppose). During this harangue, a thrill of excitement went through the congregation like an electric shock. Excited men rose to their feet and commenced to speak. The president (which was Elder Connelly) called them to order. He put his hand on this and that ones shoulder saying, "down, down, brother -- keep order, be patient, hear the brother through."
The Association was held out in the grove. I stood by the corner of the pulpit where I could see and hear all that was done and said. The crowd gathered and pressed around and those farthest back stood on there benches so they could see what was going on till the assembly looked like the pictures of great amphitheaters that we see in books sometimes. As Robert stood there, bent back in a defiant attitude facing the pulpit, his eyes glaring with rage and passion at the preachers and the flag, I thought that he looked more like an enraged panther held at bay than like a deacon of the church.
But to proceed with Robert's speech. He then mentioned some things that Elder Jones said in his sermon on Sunday about the Constitution of the United States, and that before the sermon was done, Jones held up his hand and swore by Almighty God that he (Elder Jones) would break that Constitution. This brought Jones on to his feet and asked permission to explain. Permission was granted. Jones soon straitened it up. He repeated that part of the sermon that Robert had referenced to and showed where some words that he did say were left out and words that he did not say put in in other places so as to form the sentence that Robert said that Jones used, and then gave an exhortation to the congregation and to Robert such a one as people don't often hear. He is an eloquent speaker and he put every word in its proper place. He did not speak angrily but in tones of brotherly love and kindness.
They then adjoined the meeting, sung a hymn, and Jones prayed and the Association dispersed. When I first looked around after the prayer, the people were in tears. I looked around again and again for the late self-appointed speaker but he was nowhere to be seen.
I have written so much about the Association that I have no room for anything else and there is not enough else to write about -- only we are all well as usual and doing as well as we can.
Our New York paper speaks very hopeful of the good times coming, thinks specie will be very plenty in the west soon. I expect they will have a big battle at Washington City before you get this.
I must close for the present. Affectionately yours, -- M. G. Burlingame
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1861 Milan, Indiana Civil War Letter, Church Tension Over Slavery, Content : $59